Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

What Was That About Padre

TRAVEL BUGS TALES: PICKING UP WHERE I LEFT OFF

Has it really been almost two years since my last Travel Bug Tales post?  Yep, Novemeber of 2016, so that’s almost two years.  Friends, we’ve done a lot of traveling together since then. 

Instead of trying to explain the Travel Bug sabbatical, I’ll just get busy and pick up where I left off.  If you’ve been hanging around here for a long time, then you know, Travel Bug Tales are stories from my pre-blog days – in particular from my youth, when my love for travel first started.

If you’ve just shown up in the last year or so, then let me explain.  Travel used to be different.  You didn’t have a smart phone, flip phone or even a mobile phone.  You had pay phones.  Hence there was no GPS, no texting, no email and no internet.  You just took out on the road with no digital means of support and hoped for the best.  Personally, I thought it was a lot more fun.  Come along with me to the beach.

The Padre Trip

Right before I abandoned Travel Bug Tales, I promised to tell you about a trip to Padre Island, one of the beaches we visited in Mom’s effort to find a Texas replacement for Myrtle Beach, her favorite place on Earth.  For this particular vacation, we traveled with another family.  The Smiths had boys and my parents had girls.  All the Smith boys, but one, were too old to go on a family vacation and Tracy was my sister’s age.  Actually, they also had a son my age, but he stayed home – by himself.  I couldn’t decide whether to feel sorry for him or be jealous.

I can’t imagine what I would have done at home by myself.  I had a car, but I only drove it to school and church.  I’d traveled without my parents before, but only on a mission trip and on church retreats.  So, while a part of me thought it was pretty cool Kieth got to stay home by himself, the other part of me would have been devastated to miss out on the family fun.   

Still I was the odd man out any way you sliced it.  I didn’t quite fit in with the adults, but I when I spent time with the kids, I knew I wasn’t a one of them any longer either.  The picture of me standing alone on the beach sums up my vacation perfectly.

Beach Memories

I didn’t keep travel journals back in the day, so things get fuzzy, but the first stop on this trip was Corpus Christi and it was unremarkable.

Next came Padre.  While I didn’t love Myrtle Beach quite as much as my mom, I did enjoy the days we spent in the Lides’ beach house and getting up early to comb the receding tide for shells.

We three kids, Susan (my sister), Tracy (the Smiths’ son) and I, got up very early on our first morning in Padre.  Light had just begun to suggest it might appear as we hit the beach with our buckets.  Nada!  Not so much as an interesting rock.  I was so frustrated I was almost in tears.  No big deal, I was a teenager.  Tears were always at the edge of erupting.

This was only the beginning of my frustrations.  Perhaps this trip may begin to explain why I’m iffy about beaches now, when I’d lived for beach time as a kid.  I was uncomfortable in my skin.  When I threw myself into the enjoyment of the trip, I was met with frustration, like the shell-less morning on the beach.  The rest of the time I just wasn’t sure what to do with myself.  I can understand, up to a point, why kids live on their phones.  I didn’t feel like me on this trip and a phone full of friends would have been comforting.

Heading Home

The rest of the trip turned out better.  From Padre we went to San Antonio.  I never feel odd on the Riverwalk. We stayed in the Hilton which was at the turn of the river and it’s the first time I remember staying in a hotel that upscale.  My folks usually opted for Holiday Inn.

A highlight of the trip was a riverboat ride.  Susan and the adults weren’t all that interested, so Tracy and I made a round trip.  Without Susan to tend to, something very unusual in my childhood, I ignored Tracy and pretended I was by myself.  It was exhilarating.  I was discovering that while I enjoyed people, I didn’t need them to enjoy myself.

From San Antonio, the Smith’s headed to Dallas, but we made a stop in Temple to visit my beloved Aunt Edie.  Her home was my second home.  I was allowed to go for long rambling walks on my own and I loved it.  We’d go on fun shopping trips and have laughter filled lunches.

So, that was our trip to Padre.  Mr. and Mrs. Smith were good friends to my parents, but we didn’t take anymore trips together.  It wasn’t their fault that Padre didn’t stack up to Myrtle Beach, but I think it was more than that.  No one could replace the Lides for Mom and Dad.  The annual pilgrimages to Myrtle Beach began then and suddenly I was left behind, on my own.  They’d head to Myrtle Beach and I’d stay home.  I would have summer jobs and needed the money for college.

I was growing up.  There are more Travel Bug Tales, but I’m not sure which one I’ll tell you next.  Come back next week and find out where we’re headed.

 

Accommodations, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Your Personal Travel Advisor

TRAVEL TALK: I’VE GIVEN MYSELF A PROMOTION

Yes, I know it’s Tuesday and I don’t usually post on Tuesdays, but Monday is devoted to a recent cruise, on Wednesdays I’m still covering Egypt and on Friday’s I share my Spot On Images post.  So what’s a girl who just attended a travel show supposed to do?  I decided if I squeaked this in here you wouldn’t mind too much.  Anyway, I’ve promoted myself from Random Travel Blogger to Personal Travel Adviser and I thought I’d tell you why.

The Travel Pros

I have a lot of respect for pros in the travel industry, but at a recent Travel & Adventure Show in Dallas, I learned I didn’t have quite enough respect for myself.  I’m not Samantha Brown.  I’m not even Josh Garcia. However, I might be more valuable to you than both of those travel pros.  While travel pros can give you some great information, they do not necessarily give you the best advice.  Let me give you an example.

Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter & CBS News Travel Editor

“Call the hotel directly and ask to speak to the MOD.” (That’s Manager On Duty for the rest of us.)  This is the advice Peter Greenberg gave to us.  He assured us this was the best way to score cheap hotel rates.

During the Q&A, the first guy to the mic challenged this advice.  He told of a call he’d made to a Las Vegas resort and the result had been just short of being laughed off the phone.  The MOD wasn’t going to be rude to a potential guest, but he wasn’t going to upgrade him to the presidential suite or comp a couple of days either.  Peter Greenberg, Emmy Award-Winning Investigative Reporter & CBS News Travel Editor has reason to expect that sort of treatment, but you and me and the guy at the mic?  Not so much.  Mr. Greenbers response?  Mumbling into the microphone about starting a conversation and moving to the next question.

Can a call to the MOD make a difference?  Absolutely.  Bill called the MOD at Egypt’s Mena House and negotiated an outstanding rate, but he had a reason to call.  Since he had an expired Egyptian passport, there was a chance he’d qualify for the resident rate.  Some hotels will, some won’t.  My charming husband called up and pumped the guy for information about the hotel, things he genuinely wanted to know, but he didn’t start with ‘give me a discount’.  Along the way he explained how much his travel-blogging wife wanted to stay there and lamented the good old days when his expired passport used to get him a reduced rate.  Before the call had ended, Bill had booked two nights at $75 a night.

So Mr. Greenberg was right about the advice, but he’d failed to share the conversation part and that had caused the guy at the mic to endure some unnecessary embarrassment.  I’ll give Mr. Greenberg a break.  He only has so much time to share his information and convince you to become a fan. I don’t have to squeeze everything I have to tell you into 30-45 minutes.  I dribble it out in 750-1000 word bites, but I’ve got nothing but time, so I can thoroughly explain exactly what I mean when I give you my opinion.

Back to the MOD thing – there could be any number of reasons to give him/her a call and see what happens.  If you’re a really patient person with a lot of time on your hands, then I recommend it heartily, but most of us just don’t have the time, the patience or the personality to charm the MOD.  I’ve tried it a couple of times and discovered the rate they offered didn’t even beat Expedia.  And that’s why I can give you better travel advice than the guy at the travel show.  I still face all the same challenges you do.

I’m More Like You Than I Am Them

One of the reasons you need to be a little suspect of travel pros is that they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a tourist.  They had to give up being a tourist to become a pro, but sometimes when they are giving advice to tourists, they forget about the pure joy of travel.  They behave as if you get points for avoiding an expense.  Unnecessary expenses, sure, like taking a cab for a 10 minute taxi ride from the airport, instead of paying $79 to the resort for shared transfers.  You bet I’m taking the cab, but what’s their beef with balconies?

The new trend among travel pros is balcony bashing.  They whisper about interior cabins as if it wasn’t clear to anyone, even novices, that inside cabins are less expensive.  That’s not exactly a travel secret.  Can’t afford a balcony?  OK, but don’t let that keep you home.  By the same token, if a balcony sounds good and you can afford it, get it. Travel is not some kind of financial acuity exam.  In fact, the easiest way to ruin a vacation is to grieve over every penny you spend.  Have a budget, stay in it and then enjoy the heck out of yourself.

So, here I am, your personal travel adviser.  You either know me personally or you’ve come to trust what I say because you’ve been reading my blog for awhile.  You should at least know you can trust me more than an anonymous review on a travel site and since this latest travel show I attended, I know you can trust me more than the pros.

I plan to take my new position very seriously, so let me know how I can help you with your travel quandaries.

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Teach Google to Help You Travel

Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas

TRAVEL TALK: GET OUT THERE!

This afternoon I’ll be boarding Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas for a short cruise in the Gulf.  We dreamed up this idea one recent Sunday evening to celebrate Bill’s birthday and by Tuesday afternoon our cruise was booked.  I would have had it booked the next day, but Bill needed a day to cogitate.  Three weeks later, we’ll be on board.

CTC – Tell Sandra I sent you

How’d You Do That?

Moments after booking our cruise, I shared my glee on Facebook.  That Sunday a friend asked me how I had done it, because she figures that’s the only way she’ll ever convince her husband to go – a last minute decision.  I was a little surprised at the question.  I am so travel-focused I thought nothing of booking a cruise on short notice.  I Googled around Sunday night, had a list of the best bargains ready for Bill Monday morning and called my travel agent Tuesday morning.

Let’s start with the travel agent.  Use one!  Mine is Sandra Rubio at CTC and I highly recommend her, but wherever you are, find one and use them.  I like to do my own preliminary research, but when it comes to booking, I trust Sandra.

See, I have booked online.  It takes forever.  I’ve booked on the phone.  It takes even longer.  What’s worse, you cannot trust anything they tell you.  They don’t know.  They’ve never been there.  They may never have been out of their small town in Minnesota, but they are advising you on how to book your cruise.  You’ll have this one-time transaction with them and you could never find them again if your life depended on it.  Yet you are willing to trust them with at least $1000 of your money and more importantly your vacation!

Any deal you see online, your travel agent can get for you for the exact same price and you don’t pay them a penny in commission.  It’s their job and the cruise lines are so happy for them to do it, they gladly pay them for it.  So please, once you have an idea of your budget and where you want to go – call your travel agent!

What Not to Do!

Amazed that my friend needed coaching on booking a cruise, I asked a few pertinent questions, trying to find out what her issues were.  There were two.  She was using her phone to click Facebook advertisements.  Don’t do that!  Google what you want and do it on a computer – either a desktop or laptop.

My friend said, “When I click on the link, what I get has nothing to do with the ad.  It’s called click bait.  Just don’t.

The other issue is space.  There is only so much you can see on your phone – even if the site is optimized for it.  On a cruise site, whether it is an actual cruise company, your local travel agency or a travel consolidator, there are all kinds of tabs, buttons, searches.  You can look for places, ports, dates, ships – all kinds of stuff, but if you are looking at your phone, its like kissing through a screen door.  You can’t fall in love that way.

Go Googling

Just for fun, I googled “I want to cruise” as I wrote this post.  The first three listings were ads.  Ignore those.  They are actually marked as ads on the results page, but you have no idea how many people I discover who are amazed at this.  They’ve been looking at it for years and never saw it.

The next four results were for a site called “iwantacruise.com.”  Ignore those, too.  Somebody paid big bucks to get that url, but that doesn’t mean they know anything about cruising.  Suspect all sites that mirror your query.  In addition, I usually ignore everything from Yelp, Trip Advisor, Urban Spoon, Thumbtack, Expedia and such until I know more.  All these types of sources let companies pay to get noticed.  It might as well be a straight out ad.  Yes, there are reviews from consumers, but until you know more, you aren’t ready for reviews.

Below that is where the good stuff is – the actual cruise lines and Cruise Critic (which is a great resource).  Because it was a non-specific query, I then got a You Tube video.  A few responses later I found Carnival Cruise Line and found out they have a pretty good website crew, because they dominated the next 10-20 listings.  That still doesn’t tell you whether Carnival is going where you want to go or even if they are a good cruise line, only that they invest money in SEO (search engine optimization) specialists.

In the search above, the first cruise line I got was Royal Caribbean.  You want to know why?  It has to do with what I’ve been looking at recently.  I’ve been all over the internet looking for information for my cruise.  I’ve researched shore excursions, looked for reviews of the on board dining, maps of the ship and the price of beverages.  I’ve been in and out of the Royal Caribbean ‘My Cruises” site, booking my cruise extras.  I’ve got emails in my Gmail from my travel agent about my cruise and an email from Royal Caribbean about my Crown & Anchor membership.  In case you hadn’t realized it yet, Google is nosy.  It makes itself aware of what I am doing on the internet – whether it’s online searches, emails or even social media.  When I asked about a cruise, it assumed I wanted to know about the cruise I was about to board.  A little creepy, but true.

So, to find out what you want to know on the internet, you first have to know what you’re looking at.  What’s clickbait?  What’s an ad?  What’s real?  I live and breathe this stuff, but Google is gambling that we don’t.  If you’re going to use Google as your resource, invest the time in getting to know it.

Long-Tailed Keyword Phrases

This day and time, the more specific your query is, the more likely you will get the information you want.  These types of queries are called long-tailed keyword phrases.  You may not care what they are called, but they are your friend.  When I came home on that recent Sunday night, I didn’t google cruises.  I googled “3 day cruises from Galveston,” because I knew that’s the port I wanted to depart from and because I wanted the shortest cruise I could find.  I also googled a couple of other things like “cheap Galveston cruises.” I usually try several queries to see which gives me the best responses. Then I start shopping, but I’ve already gone on too long about this for one post.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you more.

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Travel Show Treats

TRAVEL HERE: VACATIONS START HERE

Remember when they tried to tell us travel agents were going to disappear, because everyone was going to shop for their travel online.  Well, go ahead and shop, but when it gets time to buy, call your travel agent.  They haven’t gone anywhere and they still book the greater majority of travel.  Besides that, they are free and that’s my price.  My travel agency is CTC  and my travel agent is Sandra Rubio.  Let me tell you about their recent travel show.

What I Didn’t Know

I’ve traveled a lot in my life, but it would be impossible to know everything about the travel industry, because things change all the time.  The the more you know, quite frankly, the better you will travel.  Most of the things I heard at CTC’s travel expo I already knew, but as always, I picked up little tidbits.  Some things help me get better value for my travel dollar.  Others introduce me to exciting new opportunities.

Here’s some of the new tidbits I can picked up this time:

  • BOOK CRUISES EARLY and the more you care about when, where, what boat and what cabin, the earlier you need to book.  2019 is already filling up and some of the best things in 2020 are already gone.  And the industry is very, very serious about this.
  • Yes, you can get short cruises.  Used to be the norm was 14-21 days, but that doesn’t work for Boomers or Millennials and that’s who’s driving the industry now.  There are lots of short 4-5 day cruises leaving American ports and 8-10 day cruises all over the world.
  • Say good-bye to losing your boarding card.  Royal Caribbean will be giving you a watch programmed with all your essentials.  Another line is working on a piece of jewelry that can be worn in several ways that will hold you essential info – not just your beverage program, but how you like your martinis!  Thank RFID technology.
  • Being single is becoming less of problem.  Remember those Boomers and Millennials who are driving the industry?  Well, most of them are single and even if they are not, some of them prefer traveling alone.  The travel industry has listened!  There’s an emerging market of single bookings available.  Price quoted double occupancy is still the norm, but you’re no longer required to make friends with a stranger or put up with your crazy cousin to afford traveling alone.  You’ll still have to do your homework, for now.  There are limited choices, but watch for this to pick up momentum.  For now, check out Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Cunard.
  • Get a passport!  Changes are coming.  Security and documentation for travel, even domestic travel, is quickly getting more and more demanding.  While for the time being you can still enjoy closed loop cruising or domestic flights without a passport, the clock is ticking.  They’ve got things in the works that will make flight documentation so cumbersome that you’ll want a passport – even if you’re just flying from Dallas to San Antonio for a long weekend.  And by the way, 13 airports in our world now have bio-metric security measures.  Expect it on your travels soon.
  • Thank Millennials for  community spaces in your hotel.  Have you noticed business centers have moved to the front of the hotel?  There was a time when finding the business center to check your email or send a fax (Ha! remember faxes?) meant wandering into the bowels of your hotel and you’d be very alone when you got there.  If you’ve visited a new hotel or a newly renovated one, then you’ve probably noticed bright, comfortable workspaces near the entrance.  These inviting communal spaces, the snack/wine bar and other property amenities are there to lure Millennials.  Since so many of them are self-employed, tele-commuting from home or working in other alternative spaces, they crave getting out of the four walls of their hotel room.  They want places to meet with their clients without taking them back to their room or going to Starbucks.  Their demand is our gain.  Not only is there a more attractive place to check your email, chances are there will be an inviting buzz in the lobby around 5 o’clock, the workout room will not be a grungy place where old gym equipment goes to die and who knows, there might even be grill on the patio!
  • All the new fees are not a product of your imagination – get used to it.  It started with the airlines, but it didn’t stop there.  First, it was baggage fees and box lunches.  Now, there’s fee for having an assigned seat or legroom.   Who knows when they’ll figure out how to charge you a fee for the air you breathe!  But that’s not the worst part.  The hotels, resorts, car rental agencies, tour operators, etc., etc. etc. of the world observed what the airline industry did and now you’ll find they are adding fees to their tab, too.  Tickets represent only 71% of airline revenue and with Spirit Airlines, that goes down to 60% – everything else is fees.  Hotels took in $2.7 Billion (with a B!) during a recent year and the number is just beginning to climb.  Bottom line, that online price is just the beginning.  Another reason to get to know your local travel agent!
  • New ships coming!  Cruising just gets more popular everyday.  Ninety-seven new cruise ships are scheduled to be launched from 2017-2025.  Yes, some of them are huge, like Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class, but smaller ships are wildly popular, too.  Ritz Carlton will be launching 298-passenger yachts. Emerald,a river cruising enterprise, is about to enter the small ocean-going ship market.  Celebrity is about to launch a new ship concept with The Edge.  Viking is churning out longships and small ocean-going ships as fast as it can.

That should be enough to tempt you off your sofa (even with all the fees).  So come on out and choose a vacation.  You’ll be glad you did.  Tell them Jane sent you!

 

 

 

DESTINATIONS, Shopping, TRAVEL, United States

Basking in Sun Basket

A Winner in the Recipe Wars

TRAVEL HERE: AND JUGGLING IT WITH HELLO FRESH

So for a week, the Sadek family was wading in meal kits.  It was all my fault, so I was the one who had to figure out how to squeeze all the meals into our schedule.  Sun Basket arrived bright and early, just like Blue Apron, which ties them for first place in the delivery department, and Hello Fresh came along in the afternoon.

A Hello Fresh Packaging Surprise

Among my Hello Fresh (HF) complaints was the huge grocery bags in which they packed their meals.  There must have been a supply line problem, because my second week showed up in the same small bags Sun Basket (SB) used.  So now, HF and SB are neck-and-neck in the packaging race, with Blue Apron still slightly in the lead.

Juggling My Meals

So what would I do with six meals ready-to-cook?  Fish first, chicken next, then steak, a burger, chicken and finally falafel.  That was the easy part.

First off the stove was SB’s Salmon with Cucumber Avocado Salad.  Bill thought it was fine, but as I said last week, I wasn’t pleased with quality of the salmon, the cucumber was unusable and two other ingredients were less than optimal.  Bill was happy with the meal.  I was reserving judgement.

Next up was an HF win – one of Bill’s favorite dishes ever – Chicken Under a Zucchini Blanket.  OK, I’ll admit it was pretty darned good.  I’d pretty much written Hello Fresh out of the competition, but they were coming back strong on the second week.  They down-sized their grocery bags and this was a very delicious meal.  The instruction actually began with prepping all the veggies, so maybe I wasn’t the only one who likes to get that out of the way first.

Delicious, but still at number two

But SB was back with a strong recipe – Steaks with Paprika Butter – only they failed to send me one of the primary ingredients, sweet smoked paprika.  The paprika from my spice cabinet was fine, but I wondered what I was missing.  The recipe suggested we grill the steak outside and since it was a Friday night we did.  Very, very delicious.  Oh and by the way, the recipe featured gremolata, something I had never even heard of, so extra gourmet points to SB.

Saturday was HF burger night and it was a fine burger served with parmesan-crusted zucchini fries.  Obviously, it was zucchini week at HF, but we love zucchini and could pretty much eat it every night.  The burger was triple-sauced:  a mayo aioli, ketchup and onion jam.  Even Bill noticed the complexity of flavors, but he thought it was good, not weird, so good for HF.

Monday was another HF night with Warmly Spiced Chicken Thighs – another winner.  Bill loves dark meat chicken.  The meal was easy to make and delicious.  Hello Fresh was having a good week.

Then it was falafel night.  We love falafel, but I was nervous.  We’d had falafel one time with Blue Apron, but it had been a colossal fail.  It wasn’t Blue Apron’s fault, but our attempt was disastrous.  I over-processed the garbanzo beans and Bill didn’t get the oil hot enough before trying to fry the patties.  We found out what the term “hot mess” really means.

SB Falafel Burgers were a better version of the dish that BA’s had been.  This time the recipe came out right, but not right enough for us.  We’ll stick to eating falafel when we dine away from home.

Our meal kit marathon over, I had to admit Hello Fresh won.  SB’s Steak had been very, very good, but HF’s chicken/zucchini rocked our world.  Throughout the week SB had been plagued with bad or missing ingredients, while HF had been flawless in that department.

To get the bargain price we’d scored with SB, we had to sign up for two weeks, so even as I prepared my falafel burgers, we had another week of meals waiting in the frig.  All three dishes, Steaks with Chimmichrui and Harissa-Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Moroccan-Spiced Chicken Skewers, and Pork Chops in a Southwestern Sauce with tomatillos and sweet potato were good, but nothing received rave reviews from Mr. Bill and that’s what this wife is looking for.  And yes, they did leave out an ingredient – preserved lemon for the chicken skewers and this customer hates missed ingredients!   So, come back next week and see how we do with Home Chef.

 

DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Real Estate Photographry, TRAVEL, United States

Spot On Images

TRAVEL HERE: WHAT’S NEW WITH US!

I’ve got exciting news to share.  Bill and I have been nurturing a secret for several months, but now we’re ready to spill the beans.  Read all about Spot On Images and spread the news.

A Little of This and That

So what happens when you take a husband with an entrepreneurial streak, an MBA in business and a passion for photography and you match him with a wife with three decades of marketing experience and a degree in Creative Writing, who’s heavily into blogging and social media.  Well, if the two shared a successful real estate business for several years before the bubble, you might end up with Spot On Images.

If you’ve ever wondered, “What am I doing here,” but in the next moment realized you’ve been training for this opportunity all your life, then you know how we feel right now.  If I were to try to tell you where it all started, I have no idea where I’d begin.  It would be sometime after we were born on separate continents, but the story would have to start long before we ran into each other one day at the Dallas Museum of Art.

So, let’s start with the day we learned a real estate photographer friend was moving out of the area.  While most people would discuss the details of departure dates and moving vans, Bill wanted to know if they would be interested in selling their business.

Real Estate in the Days Before Smart Phones

OK, I know my husband is a great real estate photographer, but his question took me by surprise.  Back in the days before the bubble, when all this online real estate shopping was brand new, you were lucky if a listing had a picture on it.  If a For Sale sign had a brochure box, chances are it was a printout from the MLS.  That’s not how we sold houses.  Mr. Bill would go out with our new-fangled digital camera and take pictures.  We’d upload as many as we could to the MLS  (I think you could only post 11), along with descriptions that went far beyond “3/2/2 in desirable neighborhood with ocean view” which seemed to be the norm.

We weren’t the only ones there on California’s Central Coast who appreciated the advantages the internet offered to real estate agents, but we were unique enough for our listings to really stand out and I took it a step further.  I created a unique brochure for every home.  No MLS printouts and no sticking the pictures in a pre-formulated brochure and filling in the blanks.  Each brochure was an individualized masterpiece.  I’d labor over matching the right font with my carefully crafted words and mix the text with Bill’s pictures.  We’d even print the brochures in color on coverstock, an expense most agents thought was a complete waste of money.

Nowadays, that just sounds like business as usual, but back then, we were mavericks.  What’s more, it worked.  People contacted me to show my listings and then as we wrote the offer, they’d say things like, “I knew the minute I read the brochure I wanted to live here,” or “When we saw the pictures and read the description on the internet we knew it was our house.”  Meanwhile, most real estate agents were still doing it the way they always had – working the desk at the broker office, sending out postcards to their “farm”, lowering their commission and then spending most of it on advertising.

Unfortunately for our career, the real estate bubble burst.  Our lives brought us back to Texas and that was a good thing.  However, the real estate bug had gotten into Bill’s bloodstream.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about it.

DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Have a Happy Fourth!

TRAVEL HERE: PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN

My country is changing.  I am a child of the Fifties.  In spite of all the turmoil Americans are putting themselves through,  I cling to those days of starched petticoats and moon shots, when it was good to be an American.

It’s Good to Be an American

I still believe it’s good to be an American.  I have traveled to many wonderful places and hope to visit many more, but there’s no place else I’d rather call home.  Yes, things are changing, but I can still smell freedom in the air and I think there are enough of us who still believe in liberty to defend it, if that becomes necessary.

We’re not as free as we used to be and that worries me.  Most of my freedoms have been taken away in the name of protecting me.  It’s a small thing, but I hate putting on my seat belt each time I get in the car.  It might be the wise thing to do, but I remember the first car my family had with seat belts.  It was a baby blue Pontiac Bonneville.  The seat belts were an accessory.  I know how many lives they say seat belts have saved and I’m glad for that.  I just wish it wasn’t a law.

I also miss cold beer in my cup holder.  I know all the statistics on that one, too, but I’m telling you, road trips just aren’t the same.  Many of my favorite date nights were long rambles throughout the surrounding countryside sharing a six pack.  I fell in love with this form of entertainment back in Nacogdoches, when I was attending Stephen F. Austin State University.  I was a member of BCK (broke college kids).  We’d pool our resources, pick up a six-pack or two at Jimmy Bob’s and head out to explore some country road.  This was in the days before GPS, so finding your way home eventually was all part of the fun.  Driving around dusty roads with the windows down, radio on, singing along with all your favorite songs and  wetting your whistle with a semi-cold beer…those really were the days.

These days I’m exhausted by my Facebook page.  So many people angry about so many things and everybody else righteous about something else.  Heck, I grew up during the days of Jim Crow vs. Civil Rights and folks managed to be nicer to each other than we are today.  I have no idea how being politically correct became more important than being polite, but a little tact and courtesy goes a much longer way than using the PC word du jour.  We don’t say the N word anymore.  It has been replaced by the R word.  How is that better?

I liked the pre-Walmart days when I shopped for my school wardrobe at Colbert-Volk and had lunch at S&S Tearoom.  I liked it when Neiman-Marcus was owned by Mr. Neiman and Mr. Marcus, rather than some conglomerate which also owns Target.  How does that make any sense?  My department stores were Titche-Goettinger and Sanger-Harris.  Unlike the Macy’s around the corner, you could just look at at the tag and know what the price would be.  You didn’t have to find the scanner and dig through your pockets for Star rewards.  There were no low price guarantees, because service, quality and “made in America” were worth paying for.  The clothes we wore were about our own taste, instead of a monogram or logo.  Besides, if you knew clothes, you didn’t need a giant CD to tell you who the designer was.  They also didn’t ask me to donate to XYZ charity every time I checked out.

Yep, those were the days, but now these are the days.  I think the American pendulum has reached the peak of globalization, political correctness and green thinking – at least I hope so.  We’re at that moment of hesitation when the pendulum sits at the top of its arc and we wonder if it’s stuck.  There are forces trying to hold the pendulum in place, but I’m hoping the force of gravity will win.  If we ever get back to the days where our shoes matches our purses or gloves and hats are de rigueur on Sunday mornings, then you’ll know I’ve reached nirvana.

I hope you do have a happy 4th.  I hope my stroll down memory lane has reminded you of the things you used to love best about America.  May God bless you each and every one – and may God bless the USA.

 

ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Birmingham Museum of Art

birmingham-museum-of-art02202017
Birmingham Museum of Art

TRAVEL THERE: THE JEWEL OF BIRMINGHAM

When the possibility of visiting Birmingham first came up, I checked out the city online.  The city seemed to be a foodie haven with a great art museum and a nice botanical garden, but comparing their hours to our flight schedule and the hours of the thing I can’t tell you about, I wasn’t going to have time to do anything about any of that.  So, I dutifully went about my business.  Still, something in my subconscious kept clanging.  I couldn’t exactly recall why, but I knew I really wanted to see the museum.

bma-postcard02202017Perhaps, Maybe, Possibly

One day at lunch, before we took off on the Birmingham adventure, I mentioned to Hannah Beth that I regretted we weren’t going to have time to do the touristy thing.  She assured me the museum was well worth seeing and mentioned a couple of possibilities we might have for seeing it.  I assured her I had checked for evening hours, so that wouldn’t work, but skipping the final session – that would do.

I just happen to be one of those people who believe God is personally involved in my life.  I also believe that if I’m willing to put Him first, He does everything he can to fulfill Psalms 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desire of your heart.”  In fact, He’s proved it to me too many time to deny it.

So, while we were keeping an ear to the ground to find out how significant the final session would be, God was arranging to keep things ahead of schedule so that we could get out in plenty of time to make it to the museum.  You may call that a coincidence.  I don’t believe in coincidences.

My Wedgewood-esque Fireplace
My Wedgewood-esque Fireplace

An Embarrassment of Wedgwood

If you’ve been hanging around this blog for very long, then you know the Decorative Arts Wing of any museum is my prime objective when I make a visit.  I love Decorative Arts better than anything else produced from the artistic mind.  I can spend an entire day in a Porcelain gallery – a passion I learned from my mother.

What’s more, Wedgwood,especially their Jasperware, (matte porcelain with relief decorations) is among my most favorite porcelains. Don’t believe me?  Take a gander at the photo of the fireplace my husband and I designed for our home.  You don’t have one of these unless you love Wedgwood.  It was inspired by two I’d seen in Mount Vernon.

Along with representative Wedgwood pieces gracing the mantle piece, there are various Wedgwood and Jasperware pieces spread throughout the house.  For good measure, my everyday china is Wedgwood.  Not Jasperware but Wedgwood.  So imagine my delight when I glanced over the map of the Birmingham Museum and saw three galleries designated by the word “Wedgwood”.

The Dwight and Lucille Beeson Wedgwood Collection

If you love Wedgwood the way I love Wedgwood, then go ahead and book the flight.  I’ve been in a lot of museums and so far, I’ve never seen one with so much Wedgwood.  I haven’t been to The Wedgwood Museum at Stokes-on-Trent yet, but that’s only because it didn’t exist decades ago when I visited the city.  I can assure you, this is the most Wedgwood you are going to see anywhere outside of Britain.

The galleries contain mostly Jasperware in a rainbow of hues, but they have samples of other forms of Wedgwood collected by the couple.  I swear I could have visited the museum every day for a week and been perfectly happy studying the exhibits in the three galleries.  Here are some samples.

 

That blue and yellow vase on the jade pedestal would be great in my yellow and blue French decor but the dark blue wine cooler with the white flowers must be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.  I’d leave it in the museum for others to share.

Giving the Rest of the Art Its Due

Even if you don’t like Wedgwood, the Birmingham Museum of Art is still a good thing to see.  Porcelains from other places are prevalent throughout the museum, but there are also paintings and statues and other things to enjoy.  I did run through the balance of the galleries at a high speed and then rushed back to gander at the Wedgwood a little more.  However, I did get these two postcards to prove the museum has variety.

 

ww-book02202017Buying the Book

In this digital age, when you can find almost any piece of art you’d like to see by searching it online, art books might not seem a good investment to some people.  Maybe other people spend their time cruising museums online, but I’ll confess, I want to be there and see it in person.  Seeing it online is better than not seeing it at all, but it’s not even on the same continent as first hand observation.

By the same token, while I have broken my habit of buying a book in every museum I go to, sometimes I just have to take a catalog home.  This was one of those times.  In fact, I anticipated facing down the fury of my husband if the only thing available was some $160 hardback number.

I guess God was doing me another favor, because there was a reasonably priced soft cover edition of the catalog – only it had a large sticker designating it as the display copy.  I chatted up the clerk, who was a volunteer.  She looked in the stockroom – nothing.  She offered to have someone take a gander in the warehouse in the next day or so and call me if they had anymore.  I just stood there clasping the display edition as if my life depended on it.  “I’m leaving town this afternoon,” I all but wailed.  “Oh we can ship it to you,” she assured me.

I put off replying to her suggestion by telling her about my fireplace.  Then I mused as to what in the world I would do if there were no more of the books in the warehouse.  She decided to sell me the display copy at a discounted price.  BINGO!  I’m getting a whole lot better at this negotiating thing than I used to be.  I’d have paid full price just to have it, but I’m sure the fireplace story did the trick!

The flight home was not as trouble free as my flight to Birmingham.  The flight was delayed for hours and as a result I know more about the food vendors at the Birmingham airport than I should.  I’d been on a diet, which had been seriously threatened by the fast food offerings served to us at that thing I can’t tell you about, but what damage had not already been done got done.  So much for dieting.  And so much for Birmingham.  Come back next week and see what I’m up to.

Architecture, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Vulcan Park Tower, Birmingham AL

Birmingham from the Tower
Birmingham from the Tower

TRAVEL THERE: A STEEL CITY LANDMARK

So my boss had just arrived back in the States from someplace else that I can’t tell you about to join us at the thing I can’t tell you about.  At the end of the second day after a meal provided by the thing I can’t tell you about, there was supposed to be a worship and praise service, but the boss needed a change of scenery.  One more large meeting room filled with people and he was a goner, so we escaped.

Hannah Beth Helps Us Play Hooky

Since the meal we’d been provided was lukewarm hot dogs and stale potato chips (no offense intended, but that’s what it was), we wished we’d decided to play hooky about 30 minute previous to our boss’ confession of meeting room fatigue.  A nice dinner would have been a treat. Still, we weren’t going to waste an opportunity for some team building activities outside the meeting room.  So Hannah Beth took us on a tour.

Now I know young folks to things differently than I do, so this is not meant as criticism, but merely an observation.  While Hannah Beth has been to Birmingham several times and has the inside scoop on what to do, she depends on GPS for directions.  Her modus operandi is to take off in the direction which she thinks something is and then use voice commands to tell her phone to find the way.    This means she has one hand fully on the wheel, while she holds both the wheel and the phone in the other – all the while chatting up everyone in the car.

Yep, I’m a Nervous Nellie, so the entire time we were driving in Birmingham, I’m in the backseat praying we actually get to the place we’re headed.  Since I’m here to tell the tale, you know my prayers were answered in the affirmative, but while we were playing hooky from a praise and worship ceremony, I felt a little guilty about praying for protection.  Proves God listens all the time, I guess.

Vulcan Tower on Red Mountain

Vulcan Tower via http://birminghamal.org
Vulcan Tower via http://birminghamal.org

According to the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau:

“Vulcan is the largest cast iron statue in the world and Birmingham’s unofficial city symbol. Standing high atop Red Mountain, the 56-foot-high statue has an observation balcony on its pedestal for a panoramic view of the city. Vulcan is patterned after the mythical Roman god of the forge, a nod to the city’s powerful position in the iron and steel industry in the first part of the 20th century. The statue was created as Birmingham’s exhibit in the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and won the exposition’s grand prize. The museum at Vulcan has interactive exhibits and displays that portray the region’s history and progress. Museum open Monday- Saturday, 10am- 6pm; Sunday, 1pm- 6pm. Observation balcony open Monday- Saturday, 10am- 10pm; Sunday, 1pm- 10pm. Admission.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, but you can learn more on the actual Vulcan Park website.

Our boss covered the entrance fee which was just a dollar or two and we climbed the stairs to the top of the hill.  Someone who will remain nameless desperately needed to visit the rest room.  Even though the sign said the museum was open, it wasn’t and that’s where the restroom was.  In desperation, the drain in an unlocked utility room sufficed as a toilet.  That’s all I’m going to say about it, but as tired as we were, that was just the crowning glory of the day and we got a serious fit of the giggles.

Above It All

Though the tower is lovely and the park is very nice, the real draw to visiting the Vulcan Tower is that you can climb up in it.  So we did, still giggling like fools.  Now yours truly is has a slight case of acrophobia.  OK, so maybe a large case, but as we took the elevator up I was distracted by the giggling.  We walked across a steel grate which was a bridge to the steel grate which was the balcony around the tower.  There was also a fence, but all the ground around us was visible from our vantage point.

At first I just looked out toward the horizon and enjoyed the scenery (see picture from previous post).  Then I looked down.  MISTAKE.  I tried to be cool.  I tried standing away from the rail and looking toward the tower.  Didn’t work.  I started getting lightheaded and broke out in a cold sweat.  It was time to go.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a grocery store, to get some necessities.  That list might have included individual bottles of screw top wine, but if it did, I’m not telling.  As much fun as this adventure was, the best is yet to come, so make you way back here next week.

 

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL, United States

Steel City Stories

birmingham02202017TRAVEL THERE: BIRMINGHAM FOR BUSINESS

My business is ministry and that ministry targets Central Asia and the Middle East, so I can’t always be an open book about where I go and why.  However, I can tell you I made a visit to Birmingham, Alabama for business at an unspecified time for an unspecified reason.  While I can’t give you those details, I can tell you some of the stories related to the trip.

The Crack of Dawn

In the DFW Terminal
In the DFW Terminal

My traveling companion for this particular trip was my work buddy and good friend, Hannah Beth.  I’m old enough to be her mother and she’s gracious enough to treat me as if I’m her age, and I love it.  Our flight to Birmingham was ridiculously early and we had to bring along some signage, so both of us were concerned about getting there, getting checked in and getting on the flight.  In our eagerness we got to the airport hours before we needed to.  We were there so early I had plenty of time to walk around and take pictures of the mosaics on the floor.

over-easyAn Over Easy Arrival

We arrived in Birmingham in time for breakfast.  While I’m used to being the tour guide pretty much anywhere I go, I was happy to turn the reins over to Hannah Beth on this trip.  Her sister goes to school there, so she has the inside track.  She proved that when she took us to Over Easy.  She had a breakfast-something and I had lunch-something.  Both were delicious.

The decor and atmosphere was very California:  modernesque  furniture and semi-hippie waitstaff.  Because it was a late morning on a weekday, most of the clientele were students who didn’t have early classes and a few moms who’d dropped the older kids off at school.

We arrived at the restaurant via her sister’s campus.  We Uber-ed there from the airport.  I’m not a natural Uber-er, but Hannah Beth treats it like it’s her second car.  We may work together like two peas in a pod, but we do come from opposite sides of the generation gap.  At the campus, we picked up her sister’s car – another evidence of working in ministry.  No rental cars or swanky hotels.

Speaking of the lack of swanky hotels, we stayed in a La Quinta.  Don’t get me wrong.  There was nothing wrong with the place.  It was clean and convenient.  The breakfast was good.  It was a fine place to stay, but let’s face it two stars is not exactly plush.

So that’s the basics – an early morning flight, a little transportational shuffle, a hearty breakfast and an economy hotel.  The rest of the meals were either breakfast at the hotel or something served to us at the thing I can’t tell you about.  However, this was me and I had Hannah Beth with me.  Adventures are in store.  By the way, Birmingham is called the Steel City, because it used to be the home of most of the world’s steel mills.  More about that next week, so please come back to visit.